Brexit will make skills development in the food and drink manufacturing sector even more important, said new environment secretary Andrea Leadsom, at the launch of a new apprenticeship programme.
“In the post Brexit world, investing in skills and apprenticeships will be more important than ever,” said Leadsom, in her first speech since her appointment to the helm of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

The DEFRA boss said the new apprenticeship programme – Industry Approved Apprenticeship Programmes (IAAP) – would help to plug the skills gap in the food and drink manufacturing sector. Up to 130,000 would need to be recruited over the next eight years, she said.

“As technology within the industry becomes more advanced, there will be a demand for employees who can excel in roles, such as food science and engineering,” she told industry representatitives at the IAAP launch at the House of Commons on Wednesday (July 20).

‘Food science and engineering’

“This could involve fresh new recruits but also training workers who have been in the company for 10 to 15 years already, who needed to learn a very different set of skills.”

Apprenticeships were the ideal way of meeting that challenge, she added. Not only did they deliver big opportunities for individual workers, they brought tangible benefits to employers and gave a welcome boost to the economy through improved productivity.

“These skilled workers are much more productive than those with lower skills,” said the DEFRA boss. “That could make a huge difference when you consider we have the second lowest productivity in the G7 [the globe’s seven major advanced econmies]. That is something of great concern and we all need to address this.”

But Leadsom went to praise food and drink manufacturers’ “superb record” of improving productivity. The sector’s productivity had grown by 11% over the past five years, compared with 0.5% for the country as a whole.

‘Enjoying my own apprenticeship’

After a week in her new role Leadsom said: “I am thoroughly enjoying my own apprenticeship as secretary of state for DEFRA.”

Meanwhile, the new apprenticeship plrogramme – part of the employer-led Trailblazer initiative – sets out 10 food and drink sector apprenticeship programmes.

Each programme, accompanied by apprenticeship standards, was designed by food and drink sector leadership groups led by the National Skills Academy for Food and Drink (NSAFD).

The new qualifications have been developed in conjunction with leading awarding organisations including City and Guilds for engineering and Occupational Awards.

The launch of the new programme was welcomed by Nigel Perry, 2 Sisters Food Group’s people and change director.

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